In mid-May, Vietnam suffered from acts of violence in the hands of rioters, who were provoked by the Chinese government’s move of setting up an oil rig in disputed waters. Not too far away in O Xuyen, a rural village near Hanoi, were 24 NUS students, sowing seeds of friendship and extending a helping hand to Vietnamese children. These students, who were in Vietnam for 20 days, represented the NUS Students' Union Volunteer Action Committee (NVAC) through its overseas project named Project Mam Xanh.
Mam Xanh’s Project Director, Year 2 Psychology student Sylvester Or—who was a first-time leader on this project—faced several challenges while on the trip.
He, and his co-leader, Year 4 Science student Chin Yixiu, had to allay the fears of worried parents, who called him to check on their children’s wellbeing upon hearing about the riots. Secondly, they also had to keep up the spirits of his teammates, who, amid political tensions in the country, were doing manual labour—building a kitchen for a kindergarten—in scorching heat that sometimes reached 40 deg C.
Sylvester said he also learned how to manage conflict, as there were different expectations among team members. He still found the experience rewarding, however, in spite of these challenges.
“It was very meaningful. There were some problems here and there, but overall it was a good learning experience,” he said.
Apart from building a kitchen, the NUS students also taught English to primary-school kids and life-skills such as hand-washing to preschool kids.
They also shared light moments together with their Vietnamese friends. Dressed in ethnic Malay, Indian and Chinese costumes, the students sang some songs in three of Singapore's main languages—Mandarin, Malay and Tamil and also performed the Chinese martial art of wushu, albeit without weapons. In exchange, the Vietnamese adults sang a traditional Vietnamese song while the kids pranced energetically to Korean girl group Wonder Girls’ hit, Nobody, nobody but you.
When asked why he led this project, Sylvester said: “Service-learning goes both ways. We learn about ourselves but we also contribute to the global community. The Vietnamese locals don’t see foreigners every day and it’s also a chance for us to learn about their culture.”
Project Mam Xanh is one of NVAC’s five overseas projects and is conducted over the mid-year break while the other trips are held at the year-end. The other projects take NVAC members to Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and the Philippines.